Section 2: How to Prepare for the Exams
This section of the preparation manual provides information to help you prepare to take the TExES exams.
Learn What the Exam Covers
You may have heard that there are several different versions of the same exam. It's true. You may take one version of the exam and your friend may take a different version. Each exam has different questions covering the same subject area, but both versions of the exam measure the same skills and content knowledge.
You'll find specific information on the exam you're taking in the Overview and Exam Framework section of the preparation manual, which outlines the content areas that the exam measures and what percentage of the exam covers each area.
Begin by reviewing the preparation manual for your exam in its entirety, paying particular attention to the content specifications. The content specifications detail the knowledge and skills to be measured on the exam. The Educator Standards section of the prep manual lists the standards necessary for a teacher of that subject.
Once you have reviewed the preparation manual and the standards, you can create your own personalized study plan and schedule based on your individual needs and how much time you have before exam day. Be sure to also seek other resources to strengthen your content knowledge.
Keep in mind that study habits are individual. There are many different ways to successfully prepare for your exam. Some people study better on their own, while others prefer a group setting. You may have more energy early in the day, but another test taker may concentrate better in the evening. Use this guide to develop the approach that works best for you.
Assess How Well You Know the Content
Use your review of the competencies to focus your study time on those areas containing knowledge and skills with which you are less familiar. You should leave yourself time to review the content of all domains and competencies, both the familiar and the less familiar ones, but the focus of your preparation time and priority in your studying should be placed upon those areas about which you are least confident.
Think carefully about how well you know each area; research shows that test takers tend to overestimate their preparedness. People often glance at the specifications, or at the exam questions (with "a peek" at the answers at the same time), and think that they know the content of the exam. This is why some test takers assume they did well and then are surprised to find out they did not pass.
The exams are demanding enough to require serious review. The longer you've been away from the content the more preparation you will most likely need. If it has been longer than a few months since you've studied your content area, make a concerted effort to prepare. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such an approach.
Familiarize Yourself with the Different Types of Exam Questions
The TExES exams include several types of exam questions, which can be broken into two categories: selected response (multiple choice) and constructed response (for which you write or record a response of your own that is scored by trained raters based on scoring guidelines). You may be familiar with these question formats from taking other standardized tests. If not, familiarize yourself with them so you don't spend time during the exam figuring out how to answer them.
How to Approach Unfamiliar Question Formats
Some questions include introductory information such as a table, graph, or reading passage (often called a stimulus) that provides the information the question asks for. New formats for presenting information are developed from time to time. Exams may include audio and video stimulus materials, such as a movie clip or some kind of animation, instead of a map or reading passage.
Exams may also include interactive types of questions. These questions take advantage of technology to assess knowledge and skills that go beyond what can be assessed using standard single-selection selected-response questions. If you see a format you are not familiar with, read the directions carefully. The directions always give clear instructions on how you are expected to respond.
For most questions, you will respond by clicking an oval to choose a single answer choice from a list of options. Other questions may ask you to respond by:
- Selecting all that apply. In some questions, you will be asked to choose all the options that answer the question correctly.
- Typing in an entry box. You may be asked to enter a text or numeric answer. Some questions may have more than one place to enter a response.
- Clicking check boxes. You may be asked to click check boxes instead of an oval when more than one choice within a set of answers can be selected.
- Clicking parts of a graphic. In some questions, you will choose your answer by clicking on location(s) on a graphic such as a map or chart, as opposed to choosing from a list.
- Clicking on sentences. In questions with reading passages, you may be asked to choose your answer by clicking on a sentence or sentences within the reading passage.
- Dragging and dropping answer choices into "targets" on the screen. You may be asked to choose an answer from a list and drag it into the appropriate location in a table, paragraph of text, or graphic.
- Selecting options from a drop-down menu. This type of question will ask you to select the appropriate answer or answers by selecting options from a drop-down menu (e.g., to complete a sentence).
Remember that with every question, you will get clear instructions on how to respond.
Approaches to Answering Selected-Response Questions
The information below describes some selected-response question formats that you will typically see on TExES exams and suggests possible ways to approach thinking about and answering them. These approaches are intended to supplement and complement familiar test-taking strategies with which you may already be comfortable and that work for you. Fundamentally, the most important component in ensuring your success is familiarity with the content that is covered on the exam. This content has been carefully selected to align with the knowledge required to begin a career as a teacher in the state of Texas.
The questions on each exam are designed to assess your knowledge of the content described in the competencies of each exam. In most cases, you are expected to demonstrate more than just your ability to recall factual information. You may be asked to think critically about the information, to analyze it, to compare it with other knowledge you have, or to make a judgment about it.
Be sure to read the directions carefully to ensure that you know what is required for each exam question. Leave no questions unanswered. Your score will be determined by the number of questions you answer correctly.
You may see the following types of selected-response questions on the exam:
- Single Questions
- Clustered Questions
Below you will find descriptions of these commonly used question formats, along with suggested approaches for responding to each type.
The single-question format presents a direct question or an incomplete statement. It can also include a reading passage, graphic, table or a combination of these. Four answer options appear below the question.
The following question is an example of the single-question format. It tests knowledge of English Language Arts and Reading 4–8 Competency 003: The teacher understands the importance of word identification skills (including decoding, blending, structural analysis and sight word vocabulary) and reading fluency and provides many opportunities for students to practice and improve word identification skills and reading fluency.
As a word identification strategy, structural analysis would be most effective in helping eighth graders determine the meaning of which of the following words?
Read the question carefully and critically. Think about what it is asking and the situation it is describing. Eliminate any obviously wrong answers, select the correct answer choice and mark your answer.
For example, as you read this question, recall that structural analysis is the technique of dividing an unfamiliar word into parts to help determine its meaning. Now look at the response options and consider how structural analysis might be applied to the word presented in each option.
The word presented in option A is sartorial. The word sartorial refers to men’s clothing and the work of tailors. The word’s root, sartor, derives from a Latin word meaning “to patch” and is not found in many common English words. Dividing the word sartorial into parts is therefore unlikely to provide students with significant clues about the word’s meaning.
The word presented in option B is wisteria, which refers to a type of climbing vine. The word derives from the surname of an eighteenth-century American anatomist, Casper Wistar. Dividing the word wisteria into parts would not provide students with any significant clues about its meaning.
The word presented in option C is haberdasher, which refers to a person who sells items such as hats, shirts and gloves. The word derives from the Middle English word haberdashere, and dividing the word haberdasher into parts provides no significant clues about its meaning.
The word presented in option D is bibliophile. The word bibliophile refers to a person who loves books. One approach to analyzing this word is to divide it into two parts: biblio, derived from the Greek word for “books,” and phile, from the Greek word for “loving.” Students are likely to be familiar with the root biblio through knowledge of the common English word bibliography and may therefore infer that bibliophile relates to books or other reading materials. Students may also have encountered phile in words such as Anglophile, meaning a person who loves English culture. In this way, structural analysis can provide students with significant clues about the meaning of the word bibliophile.
For eighth graders, structural analysis would be effective in analyzing only one of the four words presented in the response options, the word bibliophile. The correct response is option D.
Clustered questions are made up of a stimulus and two or more questions relating to the stimulus. The stimulus material can be a reading passage, graphic, table, or any other information necessary to answer the questions that follow.
You can use several different approaches to respond to clustered questions. Some commonly used strategies are listed below.
|Strategy 1||Skim the stimulus material to understand its purpose, its arrangement, and/or its content. Then read the questions and refer again to the stimulus material to obtain the specific information you need to answer the questions.|
|Strategy 2||Read the questions before considering the stimulus material. The theory behind this strategy is that the content of the questions will help you identify the purpose of the stimulus material and locate the information you need to answer the questions.|
|Strategy 3||Use a combination of both strategies. Apply the "read the stimulus first" strategy with shorter, more familiar stimuli and the "read the questions first" strategy with longer, more complex or less familiar stimuli. You can experiment with the sample questions in the preparation manuals and then use the strategy with which you are most comfortable when you take the actual exam.|
Whether you read the stimulus before or after you read the questions, you should read it carefully and critically. You may want to note its important points to help you answer the questions.
As you consider questions set in educational contexts, try to enter into the identified teacher's frame of mind and use that teacher's point of view to answer the questions that accompany the stimulus. Be sure to consider the questions only in terms of the information provided in the stimulus — not in terms of your own experiences or individuals you may have known.
First read the stimulus (a description of a classroom situation, a passage from a biology textbook and an excerpt from two students’ conversation about the passage).
Use the information below to answer the questions that follow.
Carmen and Derrick, two students in Mr. Thompson’s seventh-grade reading class, ask for help in understanding a passage from the biology textbook they use in their science class. Mr. Thompson suggests that they begin by discussing the text with each other — sharing their thoughts and questions about the passage. Shown below are the textbook passage and an excerpt from the two students’ conversation about it.
Certain conditions, including appropriate temperatures and proper amounts of water and oxygen, must be present for a seed to sprout and grow. For many seeds, a period of rest is necessary before a seed can germinate. A seed may lie dormant for a single year or many years, but when conditions are right, the seed will sprout. For some species of plants, the seed’s own chemical inhibitors temporarily prevent it from germinating. These inhibitors may be washed away by rainwater or eliminated by prolonged exposure to cold.
Derrick: Most of this stuff is easy. Everyone knows that seeds need the right weather to grow. But I don’t exactly get this word “germinate.” You know what it means?
Carmen: I’ve heard it before . . . Doesn’t it just mean sprout?
Derrick: How do you figure that?
Carmen: Look [points to text], some of the sentences say sprout and other sentences say germinate, and it seems like they’re talking about the same thing. Then there’s this other part about things that keep seeds from sprouting, like cold weather or pollution.
Derrick: I don’t remember anything about pollution. Where did you read that?
Carmen: This part about chemicals.
Derrick: But look, it says the seed’s own chemical inhibitors. I’m not sure what inhibitors are, but I think the chemicals come from the seed, not pollution.
Carmen: Oh, I get it. That’s what keeps the seed dormant.
Derrick: And dormant is . . . ?
Carmen: Resting. You know, like when a bear hibernates.
Now you are prepared to respond to the first of the two questions associated with this stimulus. The first question tests knowledge of English Language Arts and Reading 4–8 Competency 001: The teacher understands the importance of oral language, knows the developmental processes of oral language and provides a variety of instructional opportunities for students to develop listening and speaking skills.
1. Mr. Thompson’s response to the request of Carmen and Derrick is likely to promote their reading development primarily by
- facilitating their ability to identify and apply a variety of effective study strategies.
- encouraging them to explore reading materials on related subjects.
- facilitating their comprehension through peer scaffolding and oral language interaction.
- encouraging them to formulate and address their own reading goals.
Consider carefully the information presented in the stimulus, including the interaction between the teacher and students, the content of the textbook passage and the two students’ conversation about the passage. Then read and consider this first question, which asks how the teacher’s response promotes the students’ reading development. Recall that Mr. Thompson advised Carmen and Derrick to discuss the textbook passage and to share with each other their thoughts and questions about the passage.
Option A suggests that the students’ conversation about the passage helps them identify and apply a variety of study strategies. Review the conversation and notice that it focuses on the meaning of particular words in the passage. There is no reference to multiple study strategies and no application of study skills other than discussion of key vocabulary.
Option B suggests that the students’ conversation about the passage encourages them to explore reading materials on related subjects. While it is true, in general, that peer conversation often motivates students to explore reading materials, there is no evidence in the stimulus that Carmen and Derrick plan to consult other reading materials on related subjects.
Option C suggests that the students’ conversation facilitates their reading comprehension through peer scaffolding and oral language interaction. Notice that the stimulus provides evidence that oral language interaction (i.e., Carmen and Derrick’s conversation) does allow the two students to “scaffold” their understanding (i.e., assist each other in comprehending the textbook passage). For example, Carmen improves Derrick’s comprehension of the passage by helping him understand that “germinate” means “sprout.” Derrick also improves Carmen’s comprehension by clarifying that “chemical inhibitors” refer not to pollution, as Carmen assumed, but to chemicals in the seed.
Option D suggests that the students’ conversation promotes their reading development by encouraging the students to formulate and address their own reading goals. While it is true, in general, that peer interaction can help support the process of setting and addressing reading goals, there is no evidence in the stimulus that Carmen and Derrick are formulating such goals.
In this way, analysis of the four options should lead you to select option C as the best response.
Now you are ready to answer the next question. The second question measures English Language Arts and Reading 4–8 Competency 003: The teacher understands the importance of word identification skills (including decoding, blending, structural analysis, and sight word vocabulary) and reading fluency and provides many opportunities for students to practice and improve word identification skills and reading fluency.
2. Carmen and Derrick’s discussion of the word “germinate” is most likely to promote the students’ reading proficiency by reinforcing their ability to
- use context to support word identification and confirm word meanings.
- apply grammatical principles.
- analyze differing perspectives and points of view in informational texts.
- identify main ideas.
Consider carefully the information presented in the stimulus, including the content of the textbook passage and the two students’ conversation about the passage. Read and consider this second question, which asks how the students’ conversation about the word “germinate” is likely to promote their reading proficiency.
Option A suggests that the students’ conversation about the word “germinate” is likely to reinforce their ability to use context to support word identification and confirm word meanings. Review the portion of the stimulus that describes Carmen and Derrick’s conversation about the word “germinate.” When Derrick asks how Carmen knows that “germinate” means “sprout,” Carmen reexamines the text and explains to Derrick how her interpretation of other words and sentences in the passage helps her determine the meaning of “germinate.” Carmen thus uses the context in which the unfamiliar word is found to help her determine its meaning.
Option B suggests that the students’ conversation about the word “germinate” is likely to reinforce their ability to apply grammatical principles. A review of the stimulus reveals that Carmen and Derrick’s conversation about the word “germinate” includes no explicit or implicit references to parts of speech or other aspects of grammar.
Option C suggests that the students’ conversation about the word “germinate” is likely to reinforce their reading proficiency by reinforcing their ability to analyze differing perspectives and points of views in informational texts. In their conversation, Carmen and Derrick express different observations and opinions, but the purpose of their conversation is to clarify their literal comprehension of factual information, not to expand their awareness of different points of view presented in the text.
Option D suggests that the students’ conversation about the word “germinate” is most likely to reinforce their ability to identify main ideas. In their conversation, Carmen and Derrick focus primarily on particular terms in the passage. Both students appear to understand the main ideas of the passage prior to their conversation. For example, Derrick’s first comment is, “Everyone knows that seeds need the right weather to grow.”
In this way, analysis of the four options should lead you to select option A as the best response.
Gather Study Materials
For all content areas, think about where you might be able to obtain materials for review:
- Did you have a course in which the area was covered?
- Do you still have your book or your notes?
- Does your college library have a good introductory college-level text in this area?
- Does your local library have a high school-level text?
Do you know a teacher or professor who can help you organize your study? Would a study group suit you and help you maintain momentum? People have different study methods that work for them — use whatever you know that works for you.
Preparation manuals are available for all Texas educator certification program exams. Each prep manual provides a combination of exam preparation and practice, including sample questions and answers with explanations. You can also find informational tutorials and some interactive practice exams.
Plan and Organize Your Time
You can begin to plan and organize your time while you are still collecting materials. Allow yourself plenty of review time to avoid cramming new material at the end. Here are a few tips:
- Choose a testing date far enough in the future to leave you plenty of preparation time. For exam date information, refer to the exam's information page on the Texas Educator Certification Examination Program website.
- Work backward from the exam date to figure out how much time you will need for review.
- Set a realistic schedule — and stick to it.
Develop Your Study Plan
A study plan provides a roadmap to prepare for the exams. It can help you understand what skills and knowledge are covered on the exam and where to focus your attention. A study plan worksheet is available on the Texas Educator Certification Examination Program website. You can use this worksheet to:
- Define Content Areas: List the most important content areas for your exam as defined in the preparation manual.
- Determine Strengths and Weaknesses: Identify where you have thorough understanding and where you need additional study in each content area.
- Identify Resources: Identify the books, courses, and other resources you plan to use to study for each content area.
- Study: Create and commit to a schedule that provides for regular study periods.
Exams with constructed-response questions assess your ability to explain material effectively. As a teacher, you'll need to be able to explain concepts and processes to students in a clear, understandable way. What are the major concepts you will be required to teach? Can you explain them in your own words accurately, completely, and clearly? Practice explaining these concepts to test your ability to effectively explain what you know.
Using Study Materials as Part of a Study Group
People who have a lot of studying to do sometimes find it helpful to form a study group with others who are working toward the same goal. Study groups give members opportunities to ask questions and get detailed answers. In a group, some members usually have a better understanding of certain topics, while others in the group may be better at other topics. As members take turns explaining concepts to each other, everyone builds self-confidence.
If the group encounters a question that none of the members can answer well, the group can go to a teacher or other expert and get answers efficiently. Because study groups schedule regular meetings, members study in a more disciplined fashion. They also gain emotional support. The group should be large enough so that various people can contribute various kinds of knowledge, but small enough so that it stays focused. Often, three to six members is a good size.
Here are some ways to use the preparation manual as part of a study group:
- Plan the group's study program. Parts of the study plan template can help to structure your group's study program. By filling out the first five columns and sharing the worksheets, everyone will learn more about your group's mix of abilities and about the resources, such as textbooks, that members can share with the group. In the sixth column ("Dates planned for study of content"), you can create an overall schedule for your group's study program.
- Plan individual group sessions. At the end of each session, the group should decide what specific topics will be covered at the next meeting and who will present each topic. Use the content domains and competencies in the preparation manual to select topics, and then select practice questions.
- Prepare your presentation for the group. When it's your turn to present, prepare something that is more than a lecture. Write two or three original questions to pose to the group. Practicing writing actual questions can help you better understand the topics covered on the exam as well as the types of questions you will encounter on the exam. It will also give other members of the group extra practice at answering questions.
- Take a practice exam together. The idea of a practice exam is to simulate an actual administration of the exam, so scheduling an exam session with the group will add to the realism and may also help boost everyone's confidence. Remember, if you take a practice exam, allow only the time that will be allotted for that exam on your administration day. You can use the questions in the preparation manual for your practice exam. Interactive practice exams are available for some fields.
- Learn from the results of the practice exam. Check each other's answers. Answers for the selected-response questions with explanations for the answers are included
in the prep manual. If your exam includes constructed-response questions, look at
the constructed-response sample questions, which contain sample responses to those
types of questions and shows how they were scored. Then try to follow the same guidelines
that the test raters use.
- Be as critical as you can. You're not doing your study partner a favor by letting him or her get away with an answer that does not cover all parts of the question adequately.
- Be specific. Write comments that are as detailed as the comments about the sample responses. Indicate where and how your study partner is doing an inadequate job of answering the question. Writing notes for your study partner may also help.
- Be supportive. Include comments that point out what your study partner got right and that therefore earned points.
Then plan one or more study sessions based on aspects of the questions on which group members did not perform well. For example, each group member might be responsible for rewriting one paragraph of a response in which someone else did an inadequate job.
Whether you decide to study alone or with a group, remember that the best way to prepare is to have an organized plan. The plan you follow should set goals based on specific topics and skills that you need to learn, and it should commit you to a realistic set of deadlines for meeting these goals. Then you need to discipline yourself to stick with your plan and accomplish your goals on schedule.
Smart Tips for Success
Learn from the experts. Take advantage of these answers to questions you may have and practical tips to help you navigate the exam and make the best use of your time.
Should I guess?
Yes. Your score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly, with no penalty or subtraction for an incorrect answer. When you don't know the answer to a question, try to eliminate any obviously wrong answers and then guess at the correct one. Try to pace yourself so that you have enough time to carefully consider every question.
Are there trick questions on the exam?
No. There are no hidden meanings or trick wording. All of the questions on the exam ask about subject matter knowledge in a straightforward manner.
Are there answer patterns on the exam?
No. You might have heard this myth: The answers on selected-response exams follow patterns. Another myth is that there will never be more than two questions with the same lettered answer following each other. Neither myth is true. Select the answer you think is correct based on your knowledge of the subject.
Can I write on the erasable sheet(s) I am given?
Yes. You can work out problems or make notes to yourself on the erasable sheet(s) provided to you by the test administrator. You may use your notes in any way that is useful to you, but be sure to enter your final answers on the computer. No credit is given for anything written on the erasable sheet(s).
Tips for Taking the Exam
- Skip the questions you find extremely difficult. Rather than trying to answer these on your first pass through the exam, leave them blank and mark them. Pay attention to the time as you answer the rest of the questions on the exam, and try to finish with 10 or 15 minutes remaining so that you can go back over the questions you left blank. Even if you don't know the answer the second time you read the questions, see if you can narrow down the possible answers and then guess.
- Keep track of the time. Keep an eye on the timer, and be aware of how much time you have left to complete your exam. You will probably have plenty of time to answer all of the questions, but if you find yourself becoming stuck on one question, you might decide to move on and return to that question later.
- Read all of the possible answers before selecting one. Then, reread the question to be sure the answer you have selected really answers the question. Remember, a question that contains a phrase such as "Which of the following does NOT ..." is asking for the one answer that is NOT a correct statement or conclusion.
- Check your answers. If you have extra time left over at the end of the exam, look over each question and make sure that you have answered it as you intended. Many test takers make careless mistakes that they could have corrected if they had checked their answers.
- Don't worry about your score when you are taking the exam. No one is expected to answer all of the questions correctly. Your score on this exam is not analogous to your score on other similar-looking (but in fact very different!) exams. It doesn't matter on the exams whether you score very high or barely pass. If you meet the minimum passing scores along with any other requirements for obtaining teaching certification, you will receive a license. In other words, what matters is meeting the minimum passing score.
- Use your energy to take the exam, not to get angry at it. Getting angry at the exam only increases stress and decreases the likelihood that you will do your best. Highly qualified educators and exam development professionals, all with backgrounds in teaching and educational leadership, worked diligently to make the exam a fair and valid measure of your knowledge and skills. The best thing to do is concentrate on answering the questions.
Do Your Best on Exam Day
You followed your study plan. You are ready for the exam. Now it's time to prepare for exam day.
Plan to end your review a day or two before the actual exam date so you avoid cramming. Take a dry run to the test center so you're sure of the route, traffic conditions, and parking. Most of all, you want to eliminate any unexpected factors that could distract you from your ultimate goal — passing the exam!
On the day of the exam, you should:
- Be well-rested.
- Bring two pieces of original (no photocopies or digital ID) and valid (unexpired) identification, printed in English in the name in which you registered. Your identification must contain your name, a recent recognizable photograph, and your signature. For more information, refer to the ID Policy page on the Texas Educator Certification Examination Program website.
- Arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled reporting time.
- Eat before you take the exam to keep your energy level up.
- Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers.
You cannot control the testing situation, but you can control yourself. Stay calm. The supervisors are well trained and make every effort to provide uniform testing conditions. You can think of preparing for this exam as training for an athletic event. Once you have trained, prepared, and rested, give it your best effort...and good luck!
Are You Ready?
Review this list to determine if you're ready to take your exam.
- Do you know the Texas testing requirements for your teaching field?
- Have you followed all of the exam registration procedures?
- Do you know the topics that will be covered in each exam you plan to take?
- Have you reviewed any textbooks, class notes, and course readings that relate to the topics covered?
- Do you know how long the exam will take and the number of questions it contains?
- Have you considered how you will pace your work?
- Are you familiar with the types of questions that you may encounter during your exam?
- Are you familiar with the recommended test-taking strategies?
- Have you practiced by working through the practice questions in the preparation manual?
- If constructed-response questions are part of your exam, do you understand the scoring criteria for these items?
- If you are repeating an exam, have you analyzed your previous score report to determine areas where additional study and exam preparation could be useful?
If you answered "yes" to the questions above, your preparation has paid off. Now take the exam, do your best, pass it — and begin your teaching career!
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